E3 2012: Dead Space 3 Preview
I’ve always had a soft spot for Dead Space.
I know: that’s a weird sentence. Dead Space isn’t really the kind of game that makes a gamer go all soft and gooey inside. Yet, for me, the Dead Space franchise is one that wholly encapsulates nonchalant perfection. Everything – from the art direction to the sound to those dark and disquieting narratives – unite together in a perfect symphony of horror. It’s a franchise that continues to grow, and continues to improve, and it’s one of few games that continues to truly excite – and terrify – me in equal measures.
The announcement of a third instalment wasn’t unexpected. It’s been awhile since our last planetary foray with Isaac Clarke, and it’s clear that fans have yet to have their fill of his company. That said, the announcement doesn’t come without it’s surprises, either. Co-operative play? In Dead Space?! Believe me: I’m as shocked – and as sceptical – as you might be. Historically, Dead Space has been about solitude. It’s about stomping around the halls of suspiciously empty corridors and, you know, stomping on corpse heads. It has traditionally exploited the fear of silence … and the fear of being alone.
So … co-op? Seriously?
The good news is that rather than leave us hanging about and wondering how such a title can organically incorporate co-operative play, EA had us covered. Visceral treated us to an all-new demo from within the depths of an icy EA booth, showcasing the game’s new environments (think Lost Planet meets Silent Hill, and you’re halfway there), characters and gameplay. Better still, it also offered an unique insight into how the drop-in, drop-out co-op works in practice.
The visuals are just what we’ve come to expect from Visceral’s dark instalment. Clean, sharp lines, intense detail, jaw-dropping backdrops and dark, unsettling enemies are now as much a part of Dead Space lore as Clarke himself, and it’s good to see that the series’ historic standards are just as evident here in DS3. As equally mesmerising is the sound. The original game was never afraid to use the score and SFX to twist and fray our emotions, and the good news is that 3 is no exception. The sound – or lack thereof – is still every bit as potent.
But first: the new story. After crash landing on Tau Volantis, Clarke begins to suspect that the answer to the Necromorph puzzle might lie somewhere on that frozen planet (nah, I don’t know how either, but let’s just roll with it for now). Battling the sub-zero environs and foes both old and new – including new and (live) human enemies – it’s up to Clarke to get to the root of the mystery. But as we now know, he’s no longer necessarily alone thanks to the company of Earthgov Sergeant, John Carver – your new co-op partner.
I’ll be honest: I’m still unconvinced. I was always a fan of monosyllabic Isaac. Whilst some may have interpreted his silence as emotional detachment, I always thought that his unfailing ability to get on with it without complaint was kind of badass. However, when DS2 hit our consoles we were deliberately privy to more of Isaac’s thoughts and emotions in an attempt to solidify his humanity and make him more relatable. With 3 it looks as though we might be seeing something different again.
To demonstrate, we were treated to a section of the game that showcased the single-player campaign and then, shortly thereafter, the co-op version of the same sequence. Whilst enemies and environments remain the same (and awesome, for the record), placed alongside another character Clarke is able to converse with partner Carver about the current situation. Visceral weren’t kidding when they said that co-op would bring a new dimension to the story, and the conversation conveys the narrative more succinctly than the campaign mission alone. Trouble is, I’m not convinced yet that this subtle but very tangible difference won’t unbalance the game. With Clarke and Carver vocally outlining each new development, I wonder if it’s too much spoon-feeding for a title we’ve typically spent much of in isolation … or, conversely, that the single-player campaign will suffer from a lack of necessary exposition.
But hey – it’s early days, right? Who knows what we’ll glean over the coming months, and these hesitant concerns are nothing compared to the general epicness conveyed at this year’s E3. It’s to Visceral’s credit that Dead Space is a franchise that simultaneously strives to improve without ever forgetting the roots of it’s success. And it’s this that keeps me coming back again and again … even though it scares the shit out of me.
Dead Space 3 will be available February 2013 for the PlayStation 3 Xbox 360 and the PC.